February 08, 2017

VIDEO: Udall Reads from Coretta Scott King Letter in Opposing Jeff Sessions for Attorney General

VIDEO: https://youtu.be/i715XvBCkio

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, a member of the Senate Rules Committee, spoke on the Senate floor in opposition to the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to serve as Attorney General of the United States. In his speech, Udall entered into the Senate record and read from a 1986 letter written by Coretta Scott King, widow of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., opposing Sessions' nomination for a federal judgeship. On Wednesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) read from the same letter and attempted to enter it into the record, but Senate Republicans voted to formally silence her.

The Senate voted along party lines that she was in violation of Senate Rule 19, which is intended to focus debate on policy and stop senators from imputing to another senator that his or her conduct is unbecoming. However, there is no known precedent for using this rule to bar the use of information from the public record regarding a senator whose nomination for a cabinet position is being debated by the Senate. Senate Republicans' actions last night had the effect of cutting off Warren's speech and silencing her for the rest of the Senate's debate about Sessions' nomination.

"I would like to read into the record today the letter from Mrs. King that supports her opinion of Mr. Sessions' lack of commitment to justice for all, and leave it to my colleagues here today to assess it in considering his nomination," Udall said on the Senate floor. "To me, that letter that she wrote back in March 19, 1986, goes right to the heart - right to the heart - of what we are debating here on the Senate floor. What we are debating here are voting rights, and whether we will have for the next four years or eight years an attorney general who is going to enforce the laws, particularly with regard to voting rights. I'd first ask consent to put the letter in the record."

In addition to entering King's letter into the record, Udall expressed his deep concern that Sessions will refuse to serve as a check against the reckless, backward, and exclusionary policies of the Trump administration. As Udall said, "President Trump will continue his assault on the First Amendment, defining the press that holds him accountable as the enemy, deriding and belittling those who speak out against him, attacking the free expression of religion and targeting those who practice Islam. And when he takes these actions, it's up to the attorney general to tell him that he is wrong. It is up to the attorney general to speak truth to power, and to be ready to be fired for doing so.

"But it is far from clear that Senator Sessions will be that independent voice within the Department of Justice the American public needs. The Washington Post reports that Senator Sessions not only agreed with the president's flurry of extreme executive orders, but that he wanted the president to go further and faster," Udall continued. "In an email to The Post, Senior Strategist Stephen Bannon said that, throughout the campaign, Senator Sessions ‘has been the fiercest, most dedicated, and most loyal promoter in Congress of Trump's agenda, and has played a critical role as the clearinghouse for policy and philosophy to undergird the implementation of that agenda. What we are witnessing now is the birth of a new political order...'

"Loyalty is a valued characteristic in politics," Udall said. "But the nation's chief law enforcement officer must be independent first and foremost. He or she must defend the Constitution and all Americans, not be the president's personal architect of ‘a new political order' that excludes many people."